The record polling in the first phase of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has a clear message — that the people are willing to defy separatists to make their own political choices.
Analysts also attribute the huge turnouts to the unprecedented polarisation in the run-up to the polls.
Having been inconsequential in the valley’s fractious politics all these years, the BJP made an impression of being a serious player for the first time, probably buoyed by the historic mandate it secured in this summer’s Lok Sabha elections.
“This election had become a battleground of ideas. There were apprehensions that BJP will polarise the elections and the people, as expected, voted in large numbers to thwart such attempts,” said Prof Noor Ahmed Baba of Kashmir University.
The BJP’s ambiguity on Article 370 that confers special status to the state also led those skeptical of elections in general to exercise their mandate.
The ongoing election is also witnessing many firsts. A record number of independents are in the fray and many new political parties emerged on the electoral scene.
People in the valley clearly believed that attempts were being made to appropriate their political space and divide the vote. This had a direct bearing on the turnout.
“Common people are intelligent and were able to figure out their raison d’etre,” Baba said.
A strong anti-incumbency against the Omar Abdullah-led coalition government played a key role in ensuring people came out in hordes to vote. Although there is no historical evidence in Indian elections that high polling percentage correlates to a anti-incumbent vote, in Kashmir the anger against the state government is no secret. From Abdullah’s handling of public protests in 2010 to his government’s slow response to the recent floods, Kashmiris have been widely critical of the ruling National Conference-Congress coalition.
“People are desperate for change and want good governance. The performance of the incumbent government has disappointed them,” Baba said.
All this ironically meant the polls so far have been a resounding success, although Kashmiris also realize that one election will not solve the larger question of Kashmir imbroglio.